HL Deb 31 July 1986 vol 479 cc992-1004

11.42 a.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill has been certified in another place as a Money Bill and your Lordships, by convention, will not wish to offer amendment to it. It does, however, need your Lordships' consent and your Lordships will therefore wish me to explain both the reason for it and the way in which it works. This I shall briefly do.

The need for this Bill arose because of the effect of the High Court's declaration in the case brought by Birmingham City Council. In this action Birmingham challenged the way the Secretary of State had exercised his powers in the 1986–87 settlement to determine multipliers to limit changes in local authorities' grant entitlements.

Under Section 59 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, the Secretary of State has a power to determine block grant multipliers to limit the change in the amount of block grant payable to an authority from one year to the next. Both Her Majesty's Government and local government generally had hitherto always taken this to mean that the Secretary of State could set "safety nets" to limit authorities' grant decreases and "caps" to prevent undesirable grant gains by some authorities at the expense of all the others. These powers have been used, in each year since the block grant system was introduced in 1981–82, to limit some factors affecting grant entitlements but not others. We have always believed that the Secretary of State must be able to select which factors to limit. Otherwise, he would have to limit losses regardless of their cause, including, for example, those resulting from decreases of grant caused by an authority's own spending decisions or by an increase in its rateable resources. This would clearly be nonsense.

Over the years the Secretary of State has considered it appropriate to limit the effects of certain sorts of changes that have been made in the block grant system. For example, where local authorities have lost grant as the result of improvements in the method of calculating grant-related expenditure assessments, he has applied a safety net to limit those losses. Conversely for 1986–87 he set caps to constrain the grant gains that some authorities made as a result of the abandonment of expenditure targets and penalties in the 1986–87 settlement. Caps were also applied to eliminate the effects of grant changes as a result of abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils on the rates and precepts paid by ratepayers to all the authorities in their areas.

The exercise of the powers in this way has had the general support of the local authority associations and has never previously been questioned. It has been the basis for determining multipliers in rate support grant reports for each year since 1981–82.

The judgment in the Birmingham case recorded that the Secretary of State had not exercised his power to determine a multiplier for the purpose specified in Section 59(6)(a) of the 1980 Act as he had purported to do. The Secretary of State had determined multipliers so that they limited changes in block grant due to particular factors, rather than simply limiting changes in the amount of block grant payable for 1986–87 to a particular authority from the amount payable for the previous year. A copy of the judgment has been lodged in the Library of the House.

The effect of this judgment is that the present law is very seriously flawed because it does not allow the Secretary of State to limit changes in grant due to particular factors. He can only limit changes in the total amount of grant payable to an authority for one year compared to the next.

The discovery of this flaw in the legislation has far reaching effects. It means that if no action were taken to correct matters, all the multipliers determined for 1986–87 would have to be recalculated on the new basis. This would lead to wholly unacceptable grant changes for authorities after they had made their rates. Some authorities would benefit, but many would have to deal with grant losses which they could not have anticipated.

But that would be only the start, because the judgment casts equally serious doubt on all safety net and cap multipliers determined under Section 59 in all the RSG settlements since 1981–82. So. if we had taken no remedial action, we would have to start by recalculating grant entitlements for 1981 and then roll the calculations forward for every year on the basis for setting multipliers which, following the Birmingham case, we now know the law requires. This would be no small task. Since 1981 almost 1,500 safety nets and about 170 caps have been set. But that would not be all; the practical effects on local authorities would be more worrying still because the recalculations would lead to unexpected and possibly completely unmanageable grant losses for many authorities. It is to avoid these consequences that I ask your Lordships to agree to this Bill this morning.

Its purpose is to preserve the position as we believed it to be before the Birmingham challenge. It will do so in three ways.

First, Clause 1 will validate all past determinations of multipliers up to and including those made in the RSG reports for England and Wales for 1986–87.

Secondly, Clause 2 will provide clear and unambiguous powers to ensure that the Secretary of State can in future limit the effects of particular factors on local authorities' grant entitlements. The new power will enable the Secretary of State to determine multipliers for the purpose hitherto practised and now shown to be ultra vires; that is to say, to limit or avoid the effects of any difference between the year in question and the previous year in any of the matters relevant to the calculation of block grant upon either of two things—the amount of block grant payable to an authority or the contribution made, or to be made, by ratepayers.

Thirdly, the Bill clarifies and amends certain other minor aspects of the legislation where current practice might be open to challenge on technical grounds. These changes are contained in Schedule 1.

Paragraphs 1 to 3 of the schedule clarify the existing law relating to grant-related poundages.

Paragraphs 4 to 7 make a number of amendments consequential to Clause 2 of the Bill. Paragraph 4(4) makes an additional provision enabling the Secretary of State to specify an upper limit on a multiplier.

Paragraphs 8 and 9 amend the law relating to the explanation of determinations in RSG reports. Sections 60 and 61 of the 1980 Act require the Secretary of State to specify the considerations which lead him to make his determinations. It would be impossible in practice to meet this requirement in respect of every consideration. Paragraphs 8 and 9 therefore provide that the reports will only give such explanation as the Secretary of State thinks desirable of the main features of determinations specified in the reports. But I repeat the assurance given in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and the Countryside that it is not our intention in any way to reduce the amount of explanation currently being given by the RSG reports.

Paragraph 10 of the Schedule introduces a restriction on the Secretary of State's powers to redetermine block grant multipliers determined at the time of a rate support grant settlement. The present provisions of the 1980 Act give the Secretary of State discretion to redetermine all multipliers in a supplementary report in the light of later expenditure information. The Secretary of State has never used the power in this way because the result would have been a completely unacceptable degree of uncertainty for local authorities as to their grant entitlements. We thought it right, therefore, to limit the Secretary of State's power to redetermine net and cap multipliers so that he may do so only when there has been an error in the application of the principles to the original determination on the basis of the information then available.

In the debate on the Statement on 10th April the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, asked about our commitment to correct an error in the safety nets and caps on the grant effects of abolishing the GLC. On the assumption that she still wants me to deal with it, I shall deal with it now. In the settlement there was an unfortunate error in the estimates of the highway maintenance expenditure which each borough was likely to inherit from the GLC. As a result, some authorities were given too much protection from the effects of abolition, while others were not fully protected. We have announced our intention to correct this error in the 1st Supplementary Report for 1986–87. Because the Bill provides for the correction of errors in the application of the principles used to calculate the original determinations, it will have no effect on our commitment to correct this error. The error in the settlement means that some authorities got more grant than they needed to ensure that abolition was financially neutral. They will, of course, lose from the correction of the error. However, we have made it clear that we intend to apply a tight temporary safety net to these losses, so that authorities do not suffer unreasonable grant losses in the middle of the year for which they have had no chance to make allowance in setting their rate.

Paragraphs 11 and 12 clarify the powers the Secretary of State has used to adjust the amount of grant payable to a local authority to ensure that the total payable equals the grant available. This will make certain that the legislation enables him to follow the accepted practice in close-ending grant for 1986–87 and to remove any risk of challenge in respect of previous years. For the future, the Secretary of State announced on 22nd July that he intends to introduce legislation in the autumn, following consultation, to abolish close-ending. This is in order to give local authorities more certainty about their grant entitlements so that they can plan their budgets with greater assurance.

Paragraph 13 relates to the returns of expenditure information to the Secretary of State. The proposed changes will enable the Secretary of State to disregard information which it is not "reasonably practicable" to take into account and to make appropriate assumptions where no information is available. I assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State will make absolutely clear the date when it will no longer be reasonably practicable for further information to be taken into account.

I hope that from what I have said your Lordships will recognise that the retrospective element in this Bill, of which we have from the start made no secret, is not merely desirable but necessary. The alternative would be financial confusion of an unacceptable degree. If the effect of the retrospection were to alter past actions your Lordships would, I think, have to look at it with very grave suspicion. But it is not. It is, on the contrary, to avoid the necessity of such an alteration. Since the effects of such an alteration must at present be completely unknown and unpredictable to those concerned, there can be no advantage in pursuing it. Your Lordships will therefore, I hope, feel able to give this measure your formal approval as the penultimate, decorous and responsible action before you take the summer break that your Lordships have so nobly earned. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he arrange for this statement to be published in Hansard, or otherwise, so that all the members of his party sitting behind him will be able to acquaint themselves with the situation?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the members of my party sitting behind me have been acquainted of the situation by listening to my words. The members of my party not sitting behind me, who may be as numerous as those who are not sitting behind the noble Baroness. Lady David, will have the normal opportunity to read Hansard if they so wish. Perhaps not many of them will.

Moved. That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Elton. )

11.53 a.m.

Baroness David

My Lords. I thank the Minister for explaining this Bill, but cannot believe that he can have had very much pleasure or pride in doing so. It is a shabby little Bill, and the Government have been forced to bring it forward because of the shortcomings of the previous legislation. The Government have been caught out.

In spite of the large number of local government Acts, finance Acts, rates Acts—I have found out that this will be the tenth rates Act—passed in this Government's efforts to control local authorities and their spending, loopholes have been found—or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the Secretary of State failed to observe the rules that he should have observed and has been found out and caught.

This Bill results from the successful court action brought by Birmingham City Council against the Secretary of State, where it was found that the Secretary of State had acted ultra vires in exercising his powers to cap grant gains between one year and the next under Section 59(6) of the Local Government and Planning Act 1980. The crux of the case is the setting of the base positions in the previous year from which increases in grant were measured. All local authorities thought that this year's RSGs would be based on the actual grants payable last year. That was the position throughout all the meetings and consultations with representatives of local authorities until the Secretary of State's announcement last December. It appears that what happened between the end of the consultations and that announcement was that some London authorities had made representations to the Secretary of State, who then changed his mind and based this year's RSGs not on the actual grants payable in 1985–86 but on what were called "deemed" grants, notional grants—some say "dreamed-up" grants by the Secretary of State. This announcement shocked and surprised local authorities. For Birmingham the difference between the actual grant and the deemed grant was £7.2 million.

After protests to the Secretary of State, the council decided to go to court. It won its case. When the case came to court the Government conceded the strength of Birmingham's case and as a result an order was made in favour of Birmingham and the department was ordered to pay the city's costs. The Secretary of State's representative in court admitted that the Secretary of State had acted illegally.

On 10th April, a few days before the court's ruling on the following Tuesday, there was a statement entitled "Block Grant Multipliers". This mystifying announcement was to inform Parliament that the Government intended to introduce retrospective legislation to pre-empt the decision expected in the High Court the following week and thus to deny the ratepayers and council of the City of Birmingham the £7 million which the court was to declare to be rightfully theirs.

The legislation promised, of course, is this Rate Support Grants Bill. Clause 1 of the Bill validates the approved block grant determinations and, thereby, the Secretary of State's decisions made on or before 21st January 1986. That means they cannot be challenged. This Bill will retrospectively legitimise all decisions made by the Secretary of State under Section 59 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act.

This clause happens to catch another council which is in the middle of court proceedings: Nottinghamshire County Council. They had obtained leave from Mr. Justice Mann for a judicial review of decisions made by the Secretary of State. Their case is based on wholly different facts and legal considerations from those in the case that Birmingham won in the courts. That case is due to be heard on 17th October, which will be before the date on which this Bill can receive Royal Assent, as the House of Commons does not return from Recess until 21st October. Nottinghamshire will be left high and dry, whatever the court decides, as a result of this Bill.

I hope that, in replying to this debate, the Minister will make some comments on the unfortunate position Nottinghamshire County Council finds itself in and on what action the Government may take if Nottinghamshire wins. The sum of money involved in this case is larger than in the case of Birmingham: £18 million.

The retrospective nature of the proposals is what causes great concern to all local authorities and indeed to many other people too. This is not the first time the Government have resorted to such action in their dealings with local government, and I will give a few examples. In the Local Government Act 1986, Section 7 changed the law relating to sale of local authority mortgages after 24th July 1985. In the Local Government Act 1985, Section 91 makes unlawful payments by the GLC and the Metropolitan County Councils to voluntary organisations or other local authorities after 24th July 1984. In the Local Government Finance Act 1982, Section 8 legalised the effective reduction in local authorities' block grant for those who had not complied with expenditure guidance issued previously by the Secretary of State for the 1981–82 financial year.

The new Secretary of State for the Environment himself has a good pedigree in retrospective legislation, to follow the example of his predecessors. As Secretary of State for Transport, he legislated to overturn a decision by the courts in a case brought by the GLC involving payments to London Transport. This is not a record to be proud of or one to endear central government to local government.

The Long Title of the Bill says that it is an Act to validate certain block grant determinations already approved by the House of Commons and is designed to clarify or amend the law relating to rate support grant. I have already referred to the validation of the block grant determinations, but I should like to say something about the other half of the title, to clarify or amend the law relating to RSG. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished, but, as for Hamlet, there are snags. It is unlikely that the proposals will result in greater clarity. The current arrangements for distributing RSG are, I guess, incomprehensible to quite a large number of your Lordships, MPs and local councillors, let alone the ratepayers and the general public.

Think of the jargon, my Lords—block grant, multipliers, nets, caps, close-ending (I am glad that is to end), tapers, grant recycling, targets, penalties, claw-back, flow-back, disregards and disaggregation, to name but a few. The ACC pamphlet Understanding Block Grant is a valiant effort to be helpful, but even with it the lingo to the average ratepayer must be mumbo-jumbo of a very high order. Even we cannot be expected to master all the intricacies of the system. This is an important consideration.

In a recent case brought by Nottinghamshire which went to the House of Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, voiced his concern that decisions made by the Secretary of State and approved by the House of Commons were not for the courts to pass judgment on, as they were matters of political judgment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, said in December 1985, in considering whether the Secretary of State had acted reasonably: it would be necessary to find as a fact that the House of Commons had been misled: for their approval was necessary and was obtained to the action that he proposed to take". It is not suggested that the Secretary of State would consciously intend to mislead, but the proposals in this Bill will result in a reduction in the level of explanation to be included in rate support grant reports, and must raise the possibility of Members of Parliament being asked to take important decisions without a full and clear explanation of the basis on which proposals have been framed; and there is no certainty that they will have been understood.

Clause 2 is a perfect example of how the Bill will not clairfy the law. Clause 2(4) gives the Secretary of State wide powers to set base positions with which to measure grant gains and losses between years. Surely the Secretary of State should specify in this report to Parliament the considerations which have led him to choose a particular base position. This should also be subject to full consultation with the local authority associations. It is worth noting that for the 1986–87 settlement, the Secretary of State adopted a base position which had not been subject to consultation with the associations—hence the Birmingham case.

The wide discretion to be available to the Secretary of State is clear from phrases such as, to such extent as the Secretary of State thinks desirable"— that is in Clause 2(3)—and, as he thinks appropriate in Clause 2(4). Paragraphs 8 and 9 of Schedule 1 will reduce the amount of explanation which the Secretary of State is required to include in rate support grant reports. He will be less accountable to Parliament. It is more explanation, not less, that MPs need. And there are other examples in the schedule which would show the Secretary of State seeking wider discretion, but this is not the time to enlarge on that. The fact is that he is taking to himself in this Bill very wide powers indeed, which I should have thought might be a worry to the Conservative Party if there were a change of government. But Parliament will be less well informed, as indeed will be the local authority associations.

As this Bill has been certified a Money Bill, we are not going to have the opportunity to question the detail of the Bill in Committee. Some of us were a little surprised that it was so certified. Normally the Opposition—indeed, Parliament—is aware from early on that a Bill is a Money Bill. It is obvious in the case of the Finance Bill. But here I believe it came as a total suprise—a bolt from the blue, as my honourable friend Mr. Jack Straw described it; and he thought that the Ministers dealing with the Bill were as surprised as he was. They knew of the likelihood only on the day of the Report stage and Third Reading in another place.

If I am in order, may I ask the Minister when he replies to give some explanation to the House as the two Acts which this Bill seeks to amend—the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and the Local Government Finance Act 1982—were not certified as Money Bills and we had ample opportunity to discuss them in this House. Also, Section 1(2) of the Parliament Act refers to a Bill being certified when it deals with the imposition of charges out of funds provided by Parliament or their variation. This Bill does not deal with the imposition of charges; no Money Resolution was attached to it and in no way does it affect the amount paid out of funds levied by Parliament by way of RSG. It deals only with its detailed allocation and a narrow aspect of that—multipliers. And there are many matters dealt with in the Bill which have nothing to do with the imposition of money provided by Parliament; for instance, the wide powers conferred on the Secretary of State, in particular paragraphs 8, 9 and 13 of Schedule 1, to which I have already referred.

To sum up, we do not like this Bill. The fact that it has had to be brought forward illustrates how hurried and how bad has been the legislation that this Government have churned out over the past seven years. There is evidence of that in all the Bills we have seen. Just look, my Lords, at the hundreds of amendments which the Government have to introduce to them when they reach this House. That cannot be done with this Bill. We would not deny that calculating RSG is a complex, complicated and technical matter. But this Government must stand condemned for the chaos that they have caused in local government and for the way in which they have attempted to manipulate the system to help their political friends in local authorities and hurt their opponents. Their behaviour has been neither fair nor just.

I have one final question for the Minister. There was a hint during the Report and Third Reading stages in another place that Birmingham might be compensated in some way for the fact that this Bill wipes out the courts decision that they were entitled to their £7.2 million. May I ask him whether that is to be the case? I hope that what I have said about Nottinghamshire will also be kept in mind.

12.7 p.m.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I should first like to thank the Minister for introducing this Bill, much as we dislike it, and I also take the opportunity of thanking him for the answer to my question of some weeks ago when he promised the correction at a later date. It would seem to be a satisfactory way of dealing with the error, though we regret that it had to operate in that way from the start.

We all know that the Bill is before us because a number of authorities have challenged the way in which the block grant system has operated over the past few years. Indeed, it might be an interesting Recess exercise if some of us could find out exactly how many judgments have gone against the Government in the various fields in the course of this Parliament. What this Bill does is to validate the way in which the powers to determine the multipliers have been used since 1981, and also to determine the precise powers that are needed to continue these practices in the future. That means that it is retrospective legislation, and on these Benches we are critical of retrospection in any form and we deprecate the use of it. On the other hand, if we do not have this Bill then the grant system will collapse, so we shall support it, but unwillingly

We are concerned about the use of paragraphs 8 and 9 in the schedule, that reports will contain such explanations as the Secretary of State thinks desirable of the main determinations specified in the reports. Until now, one of local government's complaints has been the difficulty of discovering all the considerations that lead to the figure finally given by the department and, in spite of the noble Lord's assurance and that of his colleague in another place, surely the wording here makes it possible for even less and not more informa-tion to be given by the Government. This can only make life in local government even more difficult. It is leaving a wholly subjective power in the hands of the Secretary of State, to whom we believe that Clause 2 gives far too much power anyway. It also means that Parliament and local government will be denied the information on which decisions have to be based.

For years now, local government has complained about the uncertainty and the complexity of the system; that it is not objective; that the goalposts have been moved far too often; and that each year it has brought a new system for settling RSG and new rules for local councils to content with. The announcement last week of more legislation next Session will bring even more uncertainty to the councils' financial planning. Previous attempts to restrict councils' spending have clearly not worked. Councils which are supposed to be rate capped are increasing ther budgets by 20 to 25 per cent. and the crackdown on capital spending only worsens councils' ability to undertake the much needed repair and building work.

One might have hoped, while clarifying the law, that the Government would also have tried to give local authorities the freedom and the planning ability for which they have been asking for so long; that there might have been some attempt to make the burden lighter on those who are trying to give the electors the services they both want and need. But local government has had an extremely difficult job under the present Government policies and it would be interesting to know if the local authority associations were properly consulted in the drafting of this legislation.

We are also concerned about the references in Schedule 1 to classes of authority. Can the Minister expand on this a little more? Does it mean that the amount local authorities receive will depend on yet another new factor of class with no regard to the special difficulties and needs of some of the local authorities? Why must we have the classes? Is it to make it easier to transfer functions? And if so—with my suspicious mind—why? Surely not in readiness for yet another reorganisation of local government?

My Lords, this is the last day of term and we have all got the pre-holiday spirit, I feel, with no hope of any detailed discussions or of making changes to this Bill. So it only remains to me from these Benches to sum up by saying that we deplore retrospective legislation, but regretfully accept the need for it in this case. We are suspicious of classes of local authorities, and we are sorry that local authorities have not been brought more fully into the discussion of the Bill. Above all, we regret the inability of the Government to get it right since 1981. We hope, and I am sure the Minister shares that hope, that this time, even if it is retrospective, this Bill is right and will work.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am of course by convention grateful to the noble Baronesses for their reply to my speech, although I am not at all sure I am entirely happy with the content which they put into those speeches. I think there is still a constraint upon me to be brief, and therefore I will reply directly only to the principal point made. If it appears appropriate to do so later, 1 will add to what—

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I know that at this stage the noble Lord, the Minister, has said there is some form of constraint upon him to be brief. However, given the fact which the noble Baroness. Lady David, pointed out, rather surprising all of us, that this is a money bill and therefore the remaining stages of the Bill will be taken immediately after the Second Reading, a number of us hope that the Minister will give full replies to these questions.

Lord Elton

My Lords, of course I shall disport myself at length at the despatch box, if that gives pleasure to the noble Lord and to the rest of your Lordships. But I am not certain that on the eve of our departure for the holiday this will be welcome to all.

The purpose of the Bill is very straightforward. Following the Birmingham case, it is clear that there are serious shortcomings in the present legislation governing the determination of block grant multipliers. I am no defender of the present system of paying for local government and your Lordships will know that the whole system is under consideration, following the publication of our paper under that name. However, it is essential that we have the present system in good working order and that the statute means what everybody hitherto had taken the statute to mean. I may tell the noble Baroness. Lady David, that in fact arrangements challenged by Birmingham were made in perfectly good faith and recognised as such by practitioners in the field. However, they had a perfect right to challenge in the court and they won, and the court said that the law did not mean v. hat we thought it meant.

Had we proceeded then simply to respect the law as it was then interpreted, we would have arrived in the most appalling muddle; in fact some local authorities would have sustained losses which they could not predict and could not sustain. Therefore, I do not apologise for bringing the Bill in, though I recognise that it is unfortunate that it was necessary. The noble Baroness, Lady David, at one stage inferred that my right honourable friend, the present Secretary of State, was in some way given to retrospection. We are not actually discussing transport matters at the moment, and I do not think it would be right to comment on that, but I would say that my right honourable friend was still Secretary of State for Transport when the Government announced their intention to proceed with this Bill. Therefore the noble Baroness is trying to add one error to another; she is actually in error herself. As I say, without this legislation it would be impossible to operate the block grant system in the way that has been understood and accepted since the system was introduced. The Bill corrects these shortcomings for the future, and removes the uncertainties over grant entitlements for previous years.

The noble Baroness, Lady David referred to the question of compensation for Birmingham, but before I reply to that I think I had better take up her point on what she called the base position in Birmingham. The issue, if I may courteously correct her, is not the 7.2 million figure which the Opposition claim Birmingham will lose because of the Bill. This figure is the difference between the estimate of grant payable to Birmingham for 1985–86 at the time of the 1986–87 settlement and the notional base against which grant credit increases were measures for caps. But the effect of the Birmingham declaration is that under the present law the Secretary of State cannot continue the accepted current practice of limiting grant changes resulting from particular factors, whether from the estimate of grant payable or a notional base. It is this flaw which the Bill is designed to put right.

We have, however, taken note of the representations made during the passage of the Bill and given an assurance that we will consider Birmingham's case for additional resources from DoE programmes. My honourable friend the Minister for the Enironment, Countryside and Local Government assured Birmingham M.P.s at the Commons Report Stage that Ministers would take note of the representations received during the progress of the Bill and that careful consideration would be given to that request, as I have mentioned. But I should also mention that Birmingham came out of the RSG round with £20 million extra, and therefore I think that should be borne in mind.

As to Nottingham and Bradford, we have made no secret of the fact that the Bill has implications for Nottinghamshire's court case. We consider that the proceedings are sterile and academic, following the Government's decision to rectify the shortcomings in the existing law revealed by the Birmingham case. Nevertheless, we have offered to concede the case on the grounds that Nottinghamshire's multipliers of 86–87 were invalid because of the shortcomings in the law identified by Birmingham. So far, my Lords, they have refused to accept that proposal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman referred to the introduction of classes of authority. Classes are in fact already in legislation and are specified in section 59(9) to 59(11) in relation to multipliers, and the same definition will apply, so that the statute makes no change to the status quo. Indeed, I hope your Lordships will not feel that the Secretary of State is being given sweeping new powers in any respect, because the purpose of the legislation is simply to return matters to what was supposed to be the status quo ante. I repeat the assurance which I gave, if I may say so, after the noble Baroness wrote her speech but before she delivered it: that the change in the statutory requirement to give information will not in any way reduce the information given. It is merely to reduce a requirement which might be perceived in the law to give impracticable amounts of information and we should again be faced perhaps with a challenge which would mean that there had to be new legislation. It is purely precautionary, my Lords.

I hope your Lordships will accept that this Bill is necessary for the clarification of the law and to allow matters to go forward as they have in the past under the eye of Parliament.

Baroness David

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, has he anything to say about Nottinghamshire, following the way in which he said that the representations from Birmingham were being paid attention to? Is the same thing going to happen in relation to Nottinghamshire? I understand the case has been conceded.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am authorised to add to what I said that our offer to concede the case on the same grounds as those relating to Birmingham, and to meet Nottinghamshire's costs, still stands. So far the council has refused.

The noble Baroness raised one point to which I did not refer. The question whether or not a Bill is a Money Bill is for the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his decision is final. I have a list of the number of matters which he considers in making that decision, but as his decision is final perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness rather than read them out now. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of 8th July), Bill read a third time, and passed.